2016 The Year of Infrastructure
Infrastructure investment has become all the talk in economic and public policy circles The recent election of the Liberal Party, in large part due to its plans to significantly increase infrastructure investment, has only heightened the focus.
The best kind of infrastructure investment is the kind that improves productivity in multiple sectors as well as public investment which directly encourages private sector investment and all the dollars, jobs and taxes that come with it.
The best example of productivity improving public investment is transit and transportation so workers can get to work on time and goods can get to market faster and more competitively. The multi-billion dollar Champlain Bridge in Montreal and Gordie Howe Bridge in Windsor are two excellent examples.
Video published to YouTube June 27, 2014 by Infrastructure Canada
Video published to YouTube March 15, 2015 by Windsor Detroit Bridge Authority
Significant investment in transit like Toronto’s Relief Line subway project as well as the overall commuter train strategy in Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack Transit plan are other excellent examples.
Video published to YouTube Mar 3, 2015 by City of Toronto
Public sector infrastructure investment which encourages private sector investment include things like ports or new access “roads to resources”. The new container and barge terminal improvements in Saint John, as well as the enormous investments envisioned for Northern Ontario and Northern Quebec are examples.
The problem with each of these massive investments is that they take a long time to be “shovel ready”! Often years of engineering, environmental assessments etc. can cause planning to go for decades! The new Energy East pipeline is such an example.
Streetscaping is a literally “shovel-ready” infrastructure investment that can be implemented quickly across all of Canada’s vast geography and, quite frankly, election ridings. It is the ultimate skill diverse, geographically dispersed infrastructure investment that can put people to work in the streets right away! In its most simple form, streetscaping can be just planting trees in the streetscape within existing sidewalks, or even easily creating “bulb outs” along the sides of roads.
One of the key benefits of streetscaping is there are projects all across Canada that are ready to go. Halifax’s Spring Garden Road, Moncton’s St. George St, Fredericton’s Main Street, Saint John’s Waterloo Village, Toronto’s John and Dundas Streets, Montreal’s Sainte Catherine Street, Winnipeg’s Shed, Calgary’s East Village, Vancouver’s Burrard St. Bridge all have plans fully engineered, and ready to go. And there are hundreds more in almost every city, town and village in Canada.
Montreal’s Saint Catherine Street
Video published to YouTube May 19, 2015
Video: Avenue 8 Images: Daoust Lestage
Toronto’s John and Dundas Streets
Calgary’s East Village
Video published to YouTube Jan 15 2014 byEast Village Calgary
Vancouver’s Granville Bridge Pedestrian Project
There are only 5 elements to Streetscaping, and they are not necessarily expensive. The return on investment, however, is extraordinary.
1. TREES AND PLANTINGS include considerations for plant species, shade, spacing, canopy, color, root chambers, fixed or movable planters, as well as green storm water management plans.
“Given a limited budget, the most effective expenditure of funds to improve a street would probably be on trees… trees can transform a street more easily than any other physical improvement. Moreover, for many people trees are the most important single characteristic of a good street.”
Allan B. Jacobs, Great Streets
The Benefits of Trees (follow link to Tree Canada)
Photo: Toronto Waterfront, 2015 AJG
2. UNDERGROUND UTILITY LINES include considerations for joint trench design, at-grade or below grade equipment, Smart meters and fault detection, lamp posts, WI-FI, fibre capacity, Smart sensors etc.
“Trees and utility lines are not compatible”. Gaetan Thomas, President NB Power
“A city is now held most progressive when it shows the fewest wires, not when it presents their greatest network”
Improvement of Towns and Cities, Charles Mulford Robinson, 1901
Photo: Prince William St., Saint John, 2014 AJG
3. STREET DIMENSIONS AND PAVING include considerations for “Complete Street” designs for pedestrians and cyclists with widened sidewalks, cycle lanes, accessibility, traffic volumes and patterns, traffic calming measures, medians. parking requirements, transit requirements and surface materials and design.
“A Complete Street is designed for all ages, abilities, and modes of travel. On Complete Streets, safe and comfortable access for pedestrians, bicycles, transit users and the mobility-impaired is not an afterthought, but an integral planning feature.”
From “Complete Streets For Canada” See attached link:
Photo: Hornby St. Vancouver 2015, AJG
4. CURBS AND SIDEWALKS include considerations for sidewalk widths, cafe seating, bulb outs, dedicated or integrated cycle lanes, sidewalk materials, accessible curbing, storm drainage choices especially green storm water management utilizing planting swales, rain gardens and permeable surfaces.
“We have chosen audacity, innovation and flexibility to offer Montrealers a new development of quality, a brightened Ste-Catherine that will be more attractive and dynamic,” Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre
Photo: Garrison Crossing, Chilliwack B.C, 2013 AJG
5. FIXTURES AND FURNISHINGS include considerations for LED lighting, Wi-Fi, Smart Sensors, flexible seating, waste receptacles, water fountains, movable planters, public art, way-finding and signage.
“Fully funded by the Bloor Street BIA members, the $20 million project boasts 134 beautiful London Plane trees, planted in innovative and sustainable soil cell systems, to promote optimal growth, along with widened, pedestrian-friendly granite sidewalks and curbs, seasonal flowerbeds and attractive up-lighting for each tree. 80 bike rings and 27 granite benches have been installed, along with all the trees and plantings.”
Photo: Kelowna, B.C. 2013, AJG
Streetscaping is not just “making a street pretty”. Streetscaping is based upon the simple truth that people want to spend time in beautiful places. If people want to spend time, they will also spend money. This fact was why the Bloor-Yorkville Business Improvement Association just invested over $20 Million PRIVATE SECTOR DOLLARS in the public streetscape. They essentially said to the City of Toronto…here’s $20 Million of our dollars. Make our business district beautiful please!
These shrewd business people understand a good investment. They know that people will want to spend more time in their streets. Residential investors know people will pay more for a home on a beautiful tree lined street rather than on an ugly utility pole lined street!
Streetscaping encourages private sector investment as well as all the jobs, salaries and tax revenue that comes with it.
The issue is vision and leadership.
Now is the time for the new government to embrace the power of building beautifully and doing things right the first time.
Now is the time for a new federal National Streetscaping Program. If new funding formulas are necessary, so be it. There is only one tax payer, not three levels of us.
Now is the time to get the shovels in the ground on Canadian streets putting hundreds of thousands of Canadians to work building their skills, their pride and their communities.
Now is the time to Streetscape!
Author: A.J. Good, Streetscape Canada